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Jazzfest Report: Del McCoury fuses genres in Delfest preview

May 6, 2013

DelFest11x17-1-e1367603962931Del McCoury may have gotten his start with Bill Monroe and may lead the best bluegrass band of the past 20 years, but he has never allowed himself to be trapped within his own genre. He has recorded collaborations with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Steve Earle, and when he hosts his annual Delfest in Cumberland, Maryland, later this month, he will welcome such far-ranging acts as the African-American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the African-American Sacred Steel group the Campbell Brothers, the South Asian horn band Red Baraat and a jam band led by Phish’s Trey Anastasio.

When McCoury closed out the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Sunday, the five members of his band joined the seven members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a delightful exercise in genre-bending. Bluegrass is a more modern music than traditional New Orleans jazz, but bluegrass’s immediate predecessor, old-time country, is very similar to Dixieland, and McCoury’s virtuoso players were able locate the beat and create the succinct, melodic solos that fit the collaboration.

The 12 musicians, all dressed in dark suits, white shirts and ties, crowded on to the small Fais Do Do stage in various combinations. Preservation’s Mark Braud, for example, sang a bawdy version of “Sugar Blues” and played a plunger trumpet solo, backed by McCoury’s bluegrass quintet. A few minutes later, when McCoury sang “You Don’t Have To Be a Baby To Cry,” Preservation’s Clint Maedgen took a tenor sax solo between Rob McCoury’s banjo solo and Ronnie McCoury’s mandolin solo.

The highlight came on “I’ll Fly Away,” a gospel number common to both traditions. Maedgen sang the first verse and Del McCoury the second; bluegrass fiddler Jason Carter and jazz clarinetist Charlie Gabriel engaged in a spirited duet. At the end, in true Dixieland fashion, everyone began soloing at once on the coda, the banjo and mandolin locked in with the trombone and tuba.

The Del McCoury Band plays every night at the Delfest in Cumberland, Maryland, May 23-26.